Out, damned spot!

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My husband came home with this bar of soap months ago and I was immediately captivated by what the label promises, for it’s a stain remover. According to the directions, you wet the bar, bring it to a lather, and then rub the soap directly on the stain. After washing, I imagine clothing will come out of the wash as white as snow… all traces of the dirt and the grime gone. And in contemplating this soap’s cleansing power, I’m not surprised that a play I watched (at least twenty-five years ago) surfaces to the forefront of my mind. The venue was Folger Theatre, the play was Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the line that stuck with a fourteen year old girl… “Out, damned spot!”

Today, I have to wonder if Lady Macbeth would have profited from use of this bar’s cleansing agents. Do you remember her? She was the wife of Macbeth, a brave Scottish general. But unfortunately, Macbeth sought wisdom from three witches. They proclaimed that one day Macbeth would become King of Scotland. And so heady was the revelation, that Macbeth was overtaken by his ambition. His wife, Lady Macbeth, spurred him to action as she exhorted him to make it happen. And so, Macbeth killed King Duncan. He took the throne for himself. And so, naturally, both Macbeth and his wife were overwhelmed by a guilty conscience. Because trickery placed Macbeth in his kingly role, he ended up killing again and again so that he could keep his lofty position. And so, through this dark tragedy, we witness Macbeth and his Lady escalating to the heights of arrogance, falling into the depths of madness, and ultimately, their lives culminated in death.

Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene was a powerful display. See, her guilty conscience plagued her even in sleep, causing her to roam about through the night. The defilement from deep within her bubbled forth as she cried out during slumber… “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One; two: why, then, ’tis time to do ‘t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now? What! Will these hands ne’er be clean? Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! Oh! Oh!”

No, I don’t believe a bar of soap would have helped Lady Macbeth. For it wasn’t simply the issue of blood on her hands. Because that blood, that damned remaining spot that clung to her, was just a tangible display of what lie deep within. The issue was her heart, for that’s where her demise began. A seed was planted. A seed that promised loftiness and headiness. And as ambition grew, the roots of self-seeking went deeper. And then there was fruit. Lady Macbeth thought her family deserved to be in that role. Her husband was meant to be king and she was meant to be queen. And she was willing to do whatever it took to get there. And roots deeply entrenched in her heart bore the fruit of arrogance. And self-seeking. And lies. And deceit. And trickery. And ultimately, murder, which was conceived in her heart, became her reality. And the guilt consumed her.

No, I am not surprised that Lady Macbeth was brought to mind this morning. Because in reality, my heart bears the image of hers. For hate, which has clung to the outer recesses of my heart is, in truth, no different than murder. In God’s eyes, murder and hate are one and the same. It’s the way of Cain and the way of Esau. It is sin.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. Matthew 23:27

Journals. I read through fifteen of them last week and everything is in there. Again, and again, and again I saw the plague of my own heart. And when faced with the evidence (the handwriting on the wall so to speak), I just have to say, “Out, damned spot!” When I see in truth that which has stuck with me for at least three years (and in reality, so much longer), I just have to cry out, “Out, damned spot!” But it’s not Purex soap that will remove that spot. For soap will only clean the outside, making for a pretty appearance. And it appears that I’ve been doing that for so long… cleaning up my outside, with a plastered on smile, but neglecting the weightier, internal matters. I’ve been like a whitewashed tomb, whiting myself. Just like the Pharisees. They washed their hands and their cups, but their insides were black as night. As dark as death. Whitewashed tombs.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Psalm 51:7-12

No more. For I am dog tired and bone weary of the way I have been for so long. And you know what… this time I have hope. Real hope. Because last week was cathartic. It was cleansing. It was purifying. Last week was a time for me to address the real issue. I got down to the heart of the matter, for it’s a matter of the heart. And this morning, I knelt broken before Him. For I know my sin… and I know what I am. I am a sinner. But the hope is… I know who He is. And it is only through Him that I can be made clean. Only through Jesus Christ can I be made as white as snow. Without the soap. Because for the deeper, internal cleansing, we need His blood. His blood washes our hearts. And because of it, we can say, “Out, damned spot!” And with full assurance, we can know that He’ll remove that stain.

“What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charged.

Do breed unnatural troubles;

infected minds to their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets;

More needs she the divine than the physician.

God, god forgive us all!

Look after her; Remove from her the means of all annoyance, and still keep eyes upon her.”

                                    -Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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History repeats itself… or so I’ve heard.

History repeats itself, right? A popular saying that originated from I don’t know where, but I’ve heard it from more than one person. So it must be true, right? Yes, history repeats. The newest saying I’ve heard more than one time is insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but hoping for a different result. Well… if that’s true, then quite clearly, I’m insane. Because after reviewing my journal from 2010, and comparing it to where I am today, I am doing the same thing again and again. And no surprise, the end result is always the same. The most damning piece of evidence was laid bare yesterday morning. The truth is, I hurt my son. It wasn’t a big hurt, but when it comes down to it, a hurt is a hurt – big or small. It happened during the mad dash of getting ready for school. Time just got away from me, and I cut it so close that I had to dress my son. Because bless his little soul, he only moves at one speed called “taking his time.” As I hastily pulled up his jeans, I felt resistance but tugged anyway. Well, his little foot was caught and it hurt him. And so, because I neglected to manage my time, I caused my son pain in the ensuing madness. And honestly, I think his feelings were hurt more than anything. Obviously, I felt like the worst mother in the whole world. And do you want to hear the most awful part? It was a couple of hours later as I perused through my old journal notes of September 15, 2010 that I realized this wasn’t the first time I had done this.  I read my own confession: “rushed and hurt my son.” It’s a fact that I had the same encounter with my son two and a half years later. Thus, it is a proven truth… history does repeat itself. I felt like a terrible mother then, and I feel like one now. And because I am doing the same thing over and over again (rushing in the morning, but hoping for a different outcome), some would classify me as insane. And I would have to agree with them.

If I’ve learned anything in my journey with God, it’s that there are no coincidences.  And when He wants you to see something about yourself, He’ll bring it right to you. He’ll show you a picture of yourself that you cannot deny. My reflected image came by way of a piece of pottery of all things. It’s the bowl I described in “A Bowl Girl.” I realize that I am the bowl. Just not as it is in its present condition. In no way do I resemble that bowl as it rests on my countertop reflecting rays of light. No, I resemble the bowl as it looked some months ago… when it was high and lifted up on the top of my fridge, collecting so much dust that even if the light had reached its surface, it wouldn’t have glimmered at all. Yes, I am just like that bowl when it was on display… just like a Pharisee. And so, I cannot say I was too surprised when I found notes in my old journal that could have been written by my own hand today. Everything that’s happening in my life today is mimicking what took place then. Again, it is proven… history repeats itself. Because I am struggling with the same thing over and over again. As always, same outcome. This is insanity.

Yesterday morning, I wondered about my being a Pharisee and a hypocrite. Because I had confronted that particular issue last year. And through reviewing my very old journal, it appears it was my struggle two and a half years ago, too. And until this past week, I didn’t really think I was a Pharisee… again. And as I ponder my past, it becomes clear how I arrived to today… to insanity. See, I am a legal assistant and work for a lawyer. The law is important. I’ve always been a rule-follower at heart. Even as a teen and young adult (when I got into things I shouldn’t), deep down I had fear because I knew there was a right and wrong. My fear was that I would get into trouble for breaking rules. And so years later, after I became His and when I finally came to a point in which I was desperate to know God, I sought knowledge. Basically, I wanted to know what His rules were. Because rules I could follow. And although seeking God’s law is not a bad thing, it can be dangerous for someone like me… a rule follower. Because acquired knowledge can cause someone like me to become arrogant and a know-it-all. It can cause someone like me to be prideful. From experience, I know one can begin adhering to one’s own set of scales of justice. And woe to anyone who falls short, because judgment will follow. I know, because this is exactly what happened to me then, it’s what happened to me a year ago, and apparently, it’s happened to me recently. I cannot deny my own handwriting. And so there’s no denying that I am a modern day Pharisee, repeating the history of Pharisees (religious leaders) from long ago. My attitude no different than theirs, and this is insanity!

Pharisees knew the law better than anyone else, and they followed it to the letter… but, their heart’s were unmoved. Pharisees lacked mercy, and when they came face to face with Jesus, they didn’t know Him and His righteousness. Because they had their own self-righteousness. And this is what Jesus had to say to or about them: they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, they despised others, they exalted themselves and thus were abased, they were those who justified themselves before men (but God knew their hearts), they were lovers of money and turned their noses up at Jesus, and they held to what was highly esteemed before men (but was, and is, an abomination before God). A Pharisee knew God’s greatest commandment was to love God above EVERYTHING, and to love his neighbor as himself… but he wanted to clarify and dispute and test Jesus and justify himself. The Pharisee said, “And who is my neighbor?” It’s evidenced that he knew the correct answer when Jesus asked “who was neighbor to him who fell?” The Pharisee said, “He who showed mercy on him.” But head knowledge does not always reach the heart.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

You know, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisee lacked conviction. Because in his eyes, he did no wrong. And it was two and a half years ago when I asked the question within my journal, “Am I a hypocrite… a Pharisee?” One of the most condemning phrases I found to confirm my suspicion was “lack of conviction.” At that time, I knew I judged people. And yet, rather than feel bad about it, I felt justified in my thinking. Because I thought they didn’t measure up. Remember… the Pharisee adhered to his own set of scales.

Like a Pharisee, I know God’s commands and can follow all the outward rules. I can appear very devout, but what about my insides… what about my heart? Like a Pharisee, I am often unmoved, unloving and unmerciful. I’m just like that bowl I kept way up high on the fridge. It was there for display only… cold and hard to the touch. The bowl didn’t know it was useless up high. The Pharisees didn’t know they were useless to God either. And until now, I thought I was. But, history repeats… it’s insanity.

When I was a young girl, my grandfather, Eddie, used to call out to me, “Whoa, Pam!” Sounds similar to what Jesus called out to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Maybe Eddie wasn’t simply calling to me after all… perhaps God gave him insight as to what my future held, and just maybe he was calling out warning instead, “Woe, Pam!” The good news is, whether then or now, I’ve been warned. Because today is the day I see. And the truth is, it’s not at all about history repeating itself… or being insane. Quite frankly, it’s called lack of repentance. It’s called choosing to live in sin. Because to him who knows to do good, and doesn’t… it is sin. In His mercy, God showed me then, and again today. I can no longer deny the truth of what I am… a hypocrite and a Pharisee. This was true two and a half years ago, it was true a year ago… and it’s true again today. I’ve been doing the same thing again and again, hoping for another outcome. They say that’s insanity but today I know better. And the good news is, history does not have to repeat itself. He gives us the choice. And so, I know what I must do… it’s time to stop the insanity… it’s time to REPENT.